In the Studio with Sarah Wren Wilson

Irish artist, Sarah Wren Wilson, playfully investigates the boundaries between sculpture and painting, through structural layers, colour shifts and dynamic mark-making. We met with Sarah to discuss her experiences, inspirations and becoming the artist she is today.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

As young as a toddler (so I have been told) a packet of crayons and a few sheets of paper was enough to keep me content. I have always had the urge to create, for as long as I can remember, making has been a matter of urgency as opposed to a hobby; a need.  

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

Originally from Monaghan, I grew up just south of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and still have vivid memories of the old army barracks, a few miles north and the fireworks for sale signs (illegal in the Republic), but also the joyous freedom of rolling down the luscious green drumlins of the Monahan countryside. Whether coincidentally or on a subconscious level, I have always disliked boundaries, borders and any form of segregation. As a result, I quietly rebel, questioning conformity and categorization in my person and artworks. The aspect of hybridity has always been key to my artwork as I avoid labelling my art under any one given category.

 Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience? 

After falling short of the required grades for my chosen degree; Business and the History of Art, I decided to take a year out and reconsider my options. But really, l had always known what I wanted and that was to go to art school. I built a portfolio, got into art school and then escaped to India for a few months to find myself (does anyone actually find themselves at 18?)  In the following September, I moved to England to study Fine Art at Loughborough University. I owe a lot to this time, having always been stubbornly determined but struggling with dyslexia throughout school, University offered real escapism. Despite the criticism that many Fine Art Degrees face for over-focusing on theoretical discourse, the course also praised the alternative thinker and this I was adept at doing. 

It offered liberation and freedom to express and that allowed me to realise that there were many estuaries in which learning could take place. After finishing my degree, I spent time on artist residencies in Spain and Iceland. Before moving to Scotland to do a Masters in Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art, where my use of materials and contextual grounding diversified again.


What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose? 

My motivation is to create honest, unapologetic artworks that give permission to freely capture everyday moments in an abstracted visual language. This channelling of a moment is complicated, it is a gameplay that cannot be isolated down to one component. Instead, it encompasses a range of nuances that exist together inside one picture plane. To translate these narratives, I explore structural layering, colour shifts and dynamic mark-making, investigating how the emotional transmittance of an image can be altered through aesthetics.

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

The artworks come from a deep level of response and intuition that enables me to explore characteristics of the surrounding environment that often don’t make sense until the work is completed. Allowing an internal dialogue between the creator (myself) and the artwork to form, where there is no predetermined endpoint. An aspect, ever more paramount since COVID 19, as opposing statements of hope and vulnerability, are translated through my artworks. 


Who and what are your greatest influences? 

The formal language of my artwork encompasses a broad range of influences, interweaving abstract expressionism mark-making, hard angular forms of post-modernism with the more contemporary tendencies of discipline cross-breeding. This pick-a-mix style of research endorses a language of hybridity and allows for various influences to be combined. Recently, I have been inspired by Joseph Albers’s screen printing and his innate understanding of structural and colour relationships.


SP, 1967 by Josef Albers set of 12 screenprints , Phillips.com

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

My artwork normally begins with a plan but this changes as the artwork takes over and adopts control.  Previously I have fixated on the audience and their opinions and become consumed by this idea of making the right work that is both visually and intelligently compelling (unnecessary hard work). Now I just explore, embracing the element of chance that leads to that potential special moment when it all just clicks. 

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practice/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work? 

I think as an artist your work is always in a state of flux, never quite mobilised, always changing. Recently, my work has been most influenced by working as an arts facilitator at KCAT (Kilkenny Arts Collective for Talent) , an established supportive studio environment, a place where great artists make great art in a communal space. It is a studio of colour, energy and genius, that has changed my view of the art-making process for the better.


What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

For me it is about being present, it is important to be able to feel, whether that be light or heavy emotion, more than anything else I believe that feeling is essential to making. A good studio space is important but superficial by comparison.

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

I have a couple of commercial projects on the go and a solo show that has been rescheduled for 2021 at the Linenhall Art Centre in the West of Ireland, which I look forward to. However, my main focus is on continuing to push my art, developing relationships and building further connections.  

 How has your art practice been affected by self-isolation?

For a while, my studio was closed but I continued to paint in my backyard which I am very grateful for. Overall, self-isolation provided me with more time and headspace to become fully immersed in my practice.


 Are you creating new work while social distancing?

My studio is not shared, so creating new work while social distancing has not been a problem but I have missed feedback from my fellow peers.

 How are you staying creative?

Just keep making!



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